I guess its what you value

Wednesday, 16th July 2008 at 11:13 UTC 3 comments

The wonderful Joseph Rowntree Foundation released a study a few weeks back and I’ve decided to go through its findings and see how they compare to my life. Its a report on the cost of living for each of a range of different example people. In this, I’ll be focusing on the single working male and thinking about some stuff I do and don’t spend money on. Lets see how I fare…

The first thing to say is that I’m impressed with the people interviewed; they generally seem to have conceded that cars are luxury items. I hope things continue to improve in this area. (Bikes, thankfully, are necessities). But how else does this minimum-decent-standard-of-living person square with the idea that we should be seeking to live simply, that others might simply live? And how do I square with either of them?

First, lets look at this person’s accommodation. I’m rather worried that people seem to have settled on a council flat and not a shared house. At £52/week, it seems likely such a place could have been found quite a lot more easily. Perhaps they might even have found a family to rent as a group; I hear this is considerably cheaper. Either way, this person is certainly lacking something of the community one can afford for £52/week. The rest of the housing stuff seems pretty unavoidable, except decorating. So much more fun to make it a DIY party activity!

Of course, this is working on weekly averages, buying new stuff from discount stores once in a while. The clothing section certainly isn’t anything like mine. I think I tend to wear things to death, having bought them for a bit more in the vain hope that this will ensure a better wage. Why I think M&S pays better than Primark, I dunno, but it would seem logical were this not capitalism. A pair of gloves for 208 weeks? You must be joking! Lost the last pair in more like 20!

On the household stuff, much of this could be shared if people decided to live in community. OK, not to the extent that it costs a quarter split between four, because bigger houses have bigger needs, but maybe a good third off for living together. And a load of the furniture could come off freecycle and places like that.

£49.99 for a watch? Last I bought cost a tenner, and since it broke I just haven’t bothered. There’s definitely some stuff here which can only be described as a non-luxury if you’re comparing yourself with wealth. The holiday is interesting me; no sign of simply staying at a friends. Of course, I go away a lot, but then 90% of the time, I stay on floors or friend’s sofas and beds. The rest are conference centres. Its not what you do, its how you do it. In reality, though I rarely travel by local bus or coach, I suspect I do spend about £15/week on transport. Except the next two weeks, when I’ll spend something like £80 on transport. Oh well.

£150 on Christmas and again on Birthdays? What happened to “its the thought that counts”? Unless you buy all your friends cocktails in evil eye for their birthday, which would go with spending that much I guess. I’m not the “Buy Nothing Christmas” scrooge, but one really can do a lot for much less than this.

I guess its the way spending really permeates our society. We come to believe we cannot survive without something, instead of challenging ourselves to look for new areas where we can discipline ourselves. Then again, I suppose for myself that area could very easily be meat or alcohol, and that’s a scary thought. I came to decide to write this post because I realised how many of my friends thought it was weird I’d just quit my job for 2-3 months over the summer (surely, surely I simply can’t afford that much time off!).

And so I guess this is in part a reflection on the mini-parable of the Camel and Needle: that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter heaven. Wealth is not the cause of happiness. Poverty might bring stress and depression, but it does make “living simply” a lot easier. Those friends of mine of do live simply are mostly the ones who live on benefits or very low incomes with deliberate intent. Very few who earn more than £10k come anywhere near succeeding in this respect.

Of course, in reality, I can. I save up enough to survive for a few months, quit my job, live on centre floors and in my tent, ride my bike for miles across London to avoid the tube fares, eat malt-loaf for lunch (89p lunch in W1, go Maltloaf!), drink coffee in Whetherspoons for internet access, you get the picture. In a way, life would be hugely boring without this kind of trip once in a while.

And its not like I’ll be messing around, though I do intend to see lots of friends this time. In order to afford it, I’ve had to put off the idea of a new bike, panniers, alsorts I could have spent money on. It will all culminate in the closest thing to an international holiday I get all year: not one but two activist conferences back-to-back. Then it’ll be back to Britain to mobilise 2 protests and run around like a headless chicken before Christmas, and at the same time, get a job and earn some cash.

The other issue I find myself confronting, though I might write about it some other time, is independence and interdependence. There are people who rely on me, and people who I rely on. Times when I know my last meal was at someone else’s expense but very shortly someone will be having a meal at mine, and so forth. Its a case of understanding community as something that necessarily interferes with our sense of independence.

Is it really so weird that I try and live on less than £7k a year? Moreover, is it so weird that I do it, not by working part-time, but by working part of the time, and then going and doing voluntary stuff from the less-than-comfy confines of people’s floors and camp fields?

Post Script: Yes, its that time of the year again, and yes, this means blogging will be intermittent again, but worry not, as there’s quite a bit of stuff for me to cover in my RSS feed.

Entry filed under: Culture, Economics, News.

Tid-bits Refreshingly deleted

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. bettty  |  Friday, 18th July 2008 at 16:10 UTC

    Not so related, but, in my volunteering for Christians Against Poverty, I found that the amount allowed in their “reasonable budget that the courts will accept” for a single person is £35 a week for food, and £10 a month for clothes.

  • 2. brainduck  |  Tuesday, 22nd July 2008 at 18:13 UTC

    I must admit that when I had to go & get assessed by the uni for emergency hardship funds a few years ago, they seemed to think I should be spending loads more money than I would on various stuff (alcohol, phone contracts…). Which is odd, because I spend too much money on other things as it is. However I think they deliberately set these things a bit high to allow a bit of ‘wiggle room’ for individual circumstances.

    Being broke doesn’t necessarily allow you to ‘live simply’. Living hand-to-mouth without any spare cash to save creates all sorts of perverse situations where you are stuck into taking a choice which is cheaper short-term but more expensive long-term – it’s really annoying. For example, when I was on my year off I spent lots on prescription charges for a few months because an annual certificate was too expensive to buy up front. There’s lots of traps like this.

  • 3. bettty  |  Saturday, 26th July 2008 at 18:09 UTC

    In Pret a Manger, the monthly paid people (ie. head office and managers, people on the higher wages) can get an interest free year travelcard loan so they don’t have to pay the £700/£800++ up front, and can save money in the long term. Weekly paid people, that is, the ones in the shops with the hats and the basic pay rate of £6 an hour can’t. Most of them can’t even afford to buy a monthly card (£70-80) up front.

    It also annoys me that there are four levels of travelcard, day week month year, but if you want to save money and get the bus instead, there’s only day or week to chose from.


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